Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 9, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).
Catholic bishops are criticizing the Biden administration’s proposed rules related to the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act that would force employers to make accommodations for women who receive abortions.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which passed Congress with bipartisan support in 2022, established new protections for workers who are pregnant or recently had a child. It requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for women based on known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions as long as such accommodations do not create an undue hardship on the operations of the business.
Although the law makes no mention of accommodating women who abort their children, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Monday issued proposed regulations that defined abortion as one of the “related medical conditions.” Under the draft regulations, employers would need to accommodate women for limitations that arise from “having or choosing not to have an abortion.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) initially supported the bill for its new protections for pregnant women. Now, USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities chairman Bishop Michael Burbidge is accusing the EEOC of distorting the law.
“We supported the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act because it enhanced the protection of pregnant mothers and their preborn children, which is something that we have encouraged Congress to prioritize,” Burbidge said in a statement. “The act is pro-worker, pro-family, and pro-life. It is a total distortion to use this law as a means for advancing abortion and the complete opposite of needed assistance for pregnant mothers.”
Burbidge argued that the proposed rules are contrary to the legislative intent.
“To include accommodations for obtaining an abortion is wrong and contrary to the text, legislative history, and purpose of the act, which is to help make it possible for working mothers to remain gainfully employed, if desired, while protecting their health and that of their preborn children,” Burbidge continued. “We are hopeful that the EEOC will be forced to abandon its untenable position when public comments submitted on this regulation demonstrate that its interpretation would be struck down in court.”
The EEOC defended its inclusion of abortion as a related medical condition based on previous judicial interpretations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which the agency argued included abortion as a medical condition related to pregnancy.
Some Republican supporters of the legislation have also accused the EEOC of disregarding the legislative intent and the text of the law. Sen. Bill Cassidy, who was the lead Republican co-sponsor of the legislation, issued a statement that argued the bill received bipartisan support because it excluded abortion.
“The Biden administration has gone rogue. These regulations completely disregard legislative intent and attempt to rewrite the law by regulation,” Cassidy said. “The Biden administration has to enforce the law as passed by Congress, not how they wish it was passed. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is aimed at assisting pregnant mothers who remain in the workforce by choice or necessity as they bring their child to term and recover after childbirth. The decision to disregard the legislative process to inject a political abortion agenda is illegal and deeply concerning.”
EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows issued a statement along with the release of the new rules but did not make any mention of the inclusion of abortion. She said the proposal “furthers the agency’s leadership role in fulfilling the promise of the PWFA’s protections.”
“The PWFA is a step forward for workers, families, and the economy,” Burrows said. “This important new civil rights law promotes the economic security and health of pregnant and postpartum workers by providing them with access to support on the job to keep working, which helps employers retain critical talent.”
The proposed rules will undergo a 60-day public comment period, after which the EEOC can either revise the rules or hold a vote on whether to adopt them.
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